Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 26 Jul 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The dark heart of Zoe

I’m binge watching a cartoon series called ‘BoJack Horseman’ on Netflix. There are three series on there, the third of which has recently been released, so I’m re-watching the first two so I can view the third remembering who all the characters are. It’s exceptionally dark, with a bleak, reductionist view of human nature and the humour in it all comes from the frailties of the cast, some of whom are human and others of whom are anthropomorphic animals. And then I hit the fourth episode.

In it, one of the characters’ ex-boyfriends suggests that everyone is a Zelda or a Zoe, based on two people from a long-forgotten TV series which recurs in the cartoon. According to the brief clip of the series, Zelda is a fun-loving extrovert whereas Zoe is the smart, cynical introvert. Of course, boiling down the whole of human experience into two personality types makes about as much sense as horoscopes deciding that everyone born in the same month has the same characteristics, but like all the best cliches, it has an element of truth to it.

Of course I want to identify as a Zoe, because she’s the intelligent one and that gratifies my own shabby little ego, but even without factoring in brain power, she’s the one I’d choose to ally myself with, if only because of the speech that the ex-boyfriend gives later in the episode. He refers to a character called Mr Peanutbutter who, if you haven’t seen the series, is a big, eternally happy and eternally positive labrador who likes everyone. He says:

“You’re trying to be a Zelda, but you’re so obviously a Zoe. You can live your happy Zelda life, in this happy Zelda town and pretend you’re a happy Zelda, but I know you and this isn’t you. People don’t change. Not really. Mr Peanutbutter is a Zelda. He’s happy, he’s carefree and he’s loving, but you and me? We’re Zoes. We’re cynical, and we’re sad, and we’re mean. There’s a darkness inside you. And you can bury it, deep in burritos as big as your head, but someday soon, that darkness is going to come out .”

And he’s right, of course. Even if only a fraction of you is a Zoe, you’ll recognise how apt this is as soon as it’s spoken. Even if I’m in a situation where I’m doing something that I know is good and where the other person will be benefiting, there’s still a part of me that is maintaining a running commentary which can’t be silenced and that commentary is always negative and cynical and sad. It says that the person I’m talking to has rubbish shoes, or a combover, or badly dyed hair, and that I’m only doing whatever good it is that I’m doing because I feel guilty that I’ve been lucky and that I should be ashamed of myself.

There’s no stopping this commentary, or even keeping it quiet. It always spools through and even when I’ve volunteered and found myself in some extreme situations, it’s still been running, an eternal heckler reminding me that even when I’m trying to appear my best, I’m still dirtier and infinitely more sad and separate than I want the other person to realise. The time I’m most aware of this is when I go to Quaker meetings on Sunday. Everyone else there is a good person. I know they’re good people and I know they’re thinking good thoughts but, in the hour of silent worship, the heckler shouts louder and tells me how imperfect they are, how imperfect I am and hates all the time.

I’m at my most real when there are no other people around and I’m free to lapse back into the quiet, sad solitude of being alone. There’s no pretence, no keeping up appearances and no acting. Just silence. I often listen to music and the songs I gravitate towards, like a drowning man finding a piece of driftwood to cling to, are all melancholic. ‘Santa Fe’ by Eilen Jewell. Gorecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.’ Arvo Part’s ‘Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten’ that feels like a vast, grey, iron plate of grief being screwed into place or, most recently, ‘Charlie Darwin’ by The Low Anthem. I come back to these songs, again and again, because they are eloquent expressions of the vast and limitless darkness inside of me. Zoe darkness, I suppose.

You can’t change this. Like the connections on a circuitboard, stamped into it at the moment of its creation, you’re hardwired to see things a certain way from the moment of your nativity. I will always be a ‘glass is half empty’ person, just as some people will always see it half full. To fidget against that is to fidget against your genetic destiny, but it really is awful. If, at the moment of a work or a personal triumph, you can see the Grim Reaper, sitting in the corner and patiently sharpening his scythe, biding his time, you’ll know what I mean.

The alternative, in this dualistic, Zoe or Zelda world, is that you are happy and unknowing or, worse yet, happy and heedless or happy and wholly indifferent, which seems much, much worse. I’m lumbered with the head I have and the eyes that see human frailty and weakness before they ever see beauty or truth. That’s better than the unseeing alternative, at least it seems to me and, perhaps the legions of quiet Zoes that I’m part of. It’s a terrible legacy but, I fear, all I have.

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